Three Things Your Donor Doesn’t Give a Hoot About
It’s often been said (by me, anyway) that empathy could do more good in the world than war and peace put together. That’s especially true in the world of fundraising, where you’re trying to get people to give you money, and you’re giving them nothing in return but a warm feeling.
After all, it’s how people feel, not what they think, that determines their behavior.
So how do donors feel? It’s a simple question, but the answers can be very complicated and contradictory. We’re talking about human nature, after all.
It might not be easy to know what donors care about, but there are a few things you can be certain they don’t care about. And unfortunately, they might be things you care about very deeply. That’s why you need to fine-tune your empathy. It’s tough to do. But then, if fundraising was easy, anybody could do it.
Below are three things that probably are very important to your organization. You probably want to talk about them a lot, and you hope that your enthusiasm is infectious. Unfortunately, they are things your donor couldn’t really care less about. Let’s start with the most painful, and maybe it will get better from there:
I hate to say it, but your donor doesn’t really care about you. She cares about herself. That’s why she supports you. The work you do moves her. Helping you makes her feel needed and empowered. Her gifts give her a sense of being part of something larger than herself.
The more you tell her that she’s helping, the more she’ll contribute. The more you remind her that she’s on the side of the angels, the more often she’ll give. And the more she hears that she is important to you — and not the other way around — the longer she’ll stay an active part of your file.
2. The cool stuff you’ve done
It’s really fun to talk about all the great work you’ve accomplished. And it’s true that your successes have been important. You should brag about them often.
But not to your donor. There’s only one reason to tell success stories in a fundraising arena: to convince the donor that you have the ability and the clout to accomplish your goals.
Your donor cares a lot less about what you’ve done than about what you’re going to do. Or more to the point, what she is going to help you do. As soon as you make your ask, tell the donor, “Your gift today will help us” accomplish great — and very specific — things.
One exception: It actually can be a very good idea to be radiant about a success or victory if you’re telling the donor it was her gift that helped make that victory possible. When you make her genuinely feel that she’s helped you change the world, she’ll want to help you do it again.
3. The cool people you know
Face it. There’s only one Jane Goodall. There’s only one Robert Redford. They have done wonders for the causes they championed. But it doesn’t necessarily follow that any celebrity endorsement will benefit every cause.
Testimonials work to the extent that the person giving the testimony has credibility with the issue — credibility that existed well before his or her identification with your cause.
Yes, celebrity endorsements can be effective, but star power used for its own sake will, at best, elicit a resigned ho-hum from your donor. If you’re not mighty careful, your donor will see it for what it most likely is: a manipulative attempt at name-dropping. And name-dropping is gauche.
Even worse, it can come back to bite you in some very unpleasant ways. Consider this close call: One high-profile human-services organization, casting about among its celebrity friends to find a spokesperson, was just about to recruit a well-known supermodel to be one of its public faces.
Preliminary plans were made; a sample package even was written. But then, just before it was time to approach the model’s people about the campaign, she got into a very public spat with one of her rivals. Suffice to say that the topic was not one that would have reflected well on the charity.
Yes, it’s great to know important people. And it’s really great to talk about the great things your organization has done. But if you really want to inspire your donors, so you can keep on doing those great things, you’ve got to put yourself in their shoes, and ask, as if you were Bob Dylan, “How does it feel?” FS
Willis Turner is a senior copywriter at Richmond, Va.-based direct-marketing agency Huntsinger & Jeffer.
Willis believes in expressive writing, exceptional fundraising, and exuberant living.
Willis Turner is the senior copywriter at Huntsinger & Jeffer. He was an experienced writer and creative director in the traditional advertising world for more than 20 years before making the switch to fundraising nearly 15 years ago. In his work with nonprofit organizations and associations, he has written thousands of appeals, renewals and acquisition communications for every medium. He creates direct-response campaigns, as well as collateral materials and communications, that get attention, tell emotional stories, and persuade people to take action or make a donation.